University of Memphis Magazine
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Fall 12 Features



FALL 2012 HOME PAGE

A New Tiger in Town
A Fresh Start
Lambuth, One Year Later
Bouncing Back
Sparks of Wisdom


Photos Capture Glamorous Career
Natural Woman Turned Healer
Writer’s Roots of Success Run Deep


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Natural Woman Turned Healer

As a child, Glinda Watts spent a lot of “unsupervised” time outdoors at her grandparents’ home in semi-rural Germantown. “The woods drew me in,” she remembers. “The herbs grabbed my attention.”

By Gabrielle Maxey

Watts may not have known it then, but the white-flowered mayapple that caught her eye was used by Native Americans to treat stomach ailments, rheumatism and liver disorders. Today it’s used to synthesize an important cancer drug.

A registered herbalist and traditional healer, Watts (BA ’74) is working to conserve native plants used in healing at the recently opened Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary at Chucalissa.

Registered herbalist Glinda Watts checks on medicinal herbs being preserved along a trail at Chucalissa.
Registered herbalist Glinda Watts checks on medicinal herbs being preserved along a trail at Chucalissa.

The native plants that grow in southwest Memphis were used by Native Americans and African-Americans to treat all manner of ailments, from arthritis and asthma to kidney disorders, upset stomachs and even cancers.

The sanctuary includes poke root, goldenseal, black cohosh, trillium, smooth sumac, violet leaf and Tennessee coneflower. Some of the plants are growing naturally in a couple of locations along a trail running through Chucalissa. Others are found deeper in the woods and are not accessible to the public.

"By this fall, we will have several smaller beds adjacent to the trail at different environmental niches throughout the wooded area," says Dr. Robert Connolly, director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. "These additional beds will contain medicinal plant species suited to the diverse environmental niches found throughout the Chucalissa forests. Eventually, we intend to crop these plants and make them available to the public."

Actually, says Watts, "The entire place is a sanctuary. We were already an arboretum with a great variety of trees. From the native plants that are naturally growing right down to the Bermuda grass, everything is medicine."

Some 80 percent of the world practices traditional medicine, Watts says, so it’s crucial to preserve native plants for future generations. "A lot of it is sourced from the U.S., from our eastern hardwood forests." Take ginseng, for example. "The Chinese love our ginseng, but it takes years to mature and it lives in sensitive environments."

The market for botanical remedies is growing. "People want to have a hand in their own health care," says Watts. "We can treat things at a subclinical level before they reach pathology."

Goldenseal is among the plants being protected at the recently opened Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary at Chucalissa.
Goldenseal is among the plants being protected at the recently opened Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary at Chucalissa.

As a traditional healer, Watts sees private clients who want to improve areas of their health like digestion, cardiovascular function or immune system. An herbal consultation does not replace a visit to a physician, she points out. Conventional medicine should be complemented by traditional healing for good health. "Natural healing addresses a state of being that allopathic medicine misses."

Watts has developed her practice over more than a quarter century. She has studied herbal medicine across the United States, including at the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. In 2004 she received professional accreditation from the American Herbalist Guild, a designation that requires 1,200 hours of study of botanical medicine and 400 hours of clinical experience.

"I’ve always been drawn to healing," says Watts, who worked in the mental health field for five years and as a supplement expert at the Squash Blossom natural food store. "While I was working there I had the flu on Christmas Eve, so I took some Chinese herbs," Watts remembers. "By the next day I was up and around." She also leads interpretive plant walks in places that have biodiversity, like Shelby Forest.

"Plants need to be protected just like animals in a zoo," she says. "Maybe more. They give us food, fiber, clothing and building materials. We can’t live without plants."

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